Food-borne illness from church meals suspected cause in making 160 people sick

Jim Day
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Dr. Lamont Sweet, left, shown with Dr. Heather Morrison, says all indications are that the cause of the wide spread illness after a church supper was food-borne.

The province’s health department must wait “several days’’ before receiving lab results to help determine how 160 people became ill following a weekend church supper in Malpeque.

Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Lamont Sweet says all indications are that the cause of the wide spread illness was food-borne.

However, the ongoing investigation has yet to determine if a virus or bacteria is responsible.

Food and stool samples are currently being analyzed in a lab.

Sweet says the illnesses, mainly diarrhea but also some cases of abdominal pain and nausea, appear linked to the 500 meals that were sold Saturday at Princetown United Church, most as takeout dinners.

Many were ill for only a few hours but others reported being sick for 24 hours or longer, he said.

If this outbreak of illness proves to be food-born, this will mark only the third time in the past 22 years that community meals have resulted in food-borne illness on P.E.I.

Sweet believes a media announcement warning of possible food contamination likely prevented many further people from becoming ill.

Any remaining food purchased from the church on the weekend should be tossed out, he added.

The meal was roast beef, vegetables, roll and desserts. A portion of the meal was prepared on site and some of the items, including desserts, were brought into the venue.

“I guess it emphasizes the concern about preparing and serving meals to the public and what can happen if there happens to be a bacteria or virus that gets into the food that is served,’’ said Sweet.

He said a number of factors could lead to contamination of food: one food source can be contaminated and not properly washed; food can be inadequately cooked; a surface where food is being prepared may be contaminated; and a person or persons preparing the food may be ill.   

A licence is required for a community group or venue to host suppers such as the one held Saturday at Princetown United Church.

Sweet said the church did have the proper licence.

Organizations: Princetown United Church

Geographic location: Malpeque

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Recent comments

  • MiChelle
    May 02, 2012 - 17:43

    Proper Storage of prepared food equals Common Sense. This isn't trivial, it's serious and a good lesson to be learned and abided by. Were an of the foods prepared with recalled food products?

  • Frank& Ernest
    May 02, 2012 - 16:47

    What is the point of a licence? F&A

    • Possy
      May 02, 2012 - 20:22

      I agree. As clean as things may seem...I recently heard that cut up ONIONS draw bacteria, SOOO, if you get sick from eating cold potato salad..it may have been the onions that did it, and NOT the mayo as many people would blame. I heard this lately and I think it was discussed becuz someones grandma used to put cup up onions in a bowl under the bed of anyone who was sick.,,the old wives tale was the the onions drew in the illness from the person!! PLUS i have too many visions of the old cat lady preparing her sweets for the church supper while her felines sit on the counter and watch! BLAH. I hope this church can fundraise again, but it will likley be in a manner different than take out suppers. PEACE!